Only 6,000 people, who considered themselves very lucky, crowded into the church of evangelical in San Antonio Texas this week to listen to his sermon. The rest were left to watch him on television or listen to him on the radio.
This isn't just a handful of devout followers. Hagee's sermons are transferred over 160 local television channels, eight national networks, and another 50 radio stations to about one million households in the US and other countries throughout the world. The topic of his sermon was Israel.
Hagee has organized an annual conference for Israel called A Night to Honor Israel for some 25 years in Texas. Listed among the ranks of speakers were former chief of staff Moshe Yaalon, and former CIA head James Woolsey. The audience ? as those participating in the event testified ? was fascinated.
50 million Israel supporters
No one knows the exact number of evangelicals in the United States. Estimates are that they are between 40 and 120 million people out of a total population of 300 million Americans. According to a survey conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, one out of every four Americans is an evangelical ? approximately 75 million people. Out of these, 70 percent ? more than 50 million people ? support Israel.
Hagee is the powerhouse standing behind evangelical activity for Israel for more than two decades. In the past, he tried to establish a Christian lobby that would advance his cause, but failed and was left all alone. However, this past February, he achieved his goal with the establishment of Christians United for Israel (CUFI). Four hundred Christian leaders, representing millions of Christians across the US, rose to the occasion and came to Texas for a conference named after the lobby.
Israel is his number one passion. He talks about Israel all the time in his sermons," said David Brog, executive director of CUFI.
Brog, 38, a distant relative of former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, was senior assistant and consultant to Senator Arlen Specter for seven years.
His work gave him a deep understanding of the evangelical Christians living in the rural areas of Pennsylvania. This acquaintance brought about a personal revolution in Brog's life. From a career on Capitol Hill, he became the largest Jewish preacher for evangelical Christians ? the Christian Zionists, as he calls them ? in the United States.
Brog's book Standing with Israel was published a few months ago.
There already is a lobby for Israel ? AIPAC. Why should there be another one?
Brog: "AIPAC is very effective at what it does. Their influence stems mainly from the fact that they do good research, they have very convincing lobbies, and they have a lot of money that, without a direct connection, tends to flow toward those who support Israel. One thing AIPAC lacks is a massive grassroots presence."
According to him, because Jews are two percent of the American population, AIPAC has a limited amount of support they can drum up as a Jewish organization.
"What I see the CUFI bringing to the table is a massive grassroots network. I think that's necessary because if things get bad enough, I don't know that the Jewish community alone can sustain support for Israel," said Brog.
"This is now bigger than Israel. The challenges facing Israel and the challenges facing America are more than Israel and the Jewish community can handle. We're talking about a constituency in America that would support doing what we need to do against radical Islam," Brog continued.
The CUFI is aims to be "the constituency for a robust war on terror."
Many Jews in the United States and in Israel feel uncomfortable with the joining of Jews and evangelicals. For American Jews it is difficult to swallow their conservative positions on issues like marriage, abortion, medical research, and it is difficult for them sometimes to accept their political stance on anything having to do with Israel.
Above all, the widespread idea has been floating around that the evangelicals aren't acting out of love for Israel or Jews, but out of a desire to hasten the second coming of their messiah, Jesus, at which point Jesus either kills or converts the Jews on Judgment Day.
Brog tries to put those who are worried about CUFI intentions at ease: "When it comes to events with Jews, we have a strictly non-conversionary policy. However, when we do events with other Christians, we are highly conversionary. One of our main missions is to preach the Christian Zionist gospel to Christians across America."
CUFI aims to attract new members through holding A Night to Honor Israel event in every major city in the US.
He mentioned a statement Menachem Begin once made saying that Israel has many enemies and doesn't intend to reject help from friends. "About the Messiah," Brog continues, "when he comes, we?ll know who he is."
Getting acquainted with evangelical Christians
How did the young Jewish politician, graduate of Princeton and Harvard, get involved with evangelical Christianity? "When I worker for Senator Specter a lot of my constituents were evangelical Christians. I was so impressed by them. They loved Israel. When something would happen in Israel they would be calling me up asking what they could do to help," he recounted.
Why do the evangelical Christians support a Jewish state?
"I decided to do my own investigation. I became curious. Are these people sincere, good, loving friends, or is what Bob Simon's piece on 60 Minutes tells me and what the New York Times tells me that these people have an evil and nefarious goal, but are just very slick about how they package it? The most exciting finding for me is how we got from the Inquisition and the Crusades to this love and support."
And how is that?
"Here's the basic story and to me the underlying explanation. For 2,000 years, from the middle of the 2nd century to the middle of this past 20th century, the dominant Christian theology toward the Jews was replacement theology, which states that when the Jews failed to recognize Jesus as their messiah, God replaced the Jews as His chosen people with the Church. The Church became God's beloved Israel.
"So when Christians read the Bible, and see the word Israel, they don't interpret it as the Jewish people. It's the Church. The implications of this are that the Jews are disinherited from all the promises of the Bible. The Jews inherit the land of Israel becomes 'the Church inherits the land of Israel.'
"This means casting aside and rejecting and casting aside the Jewish people, and that was the example the Christians followed century after century. That is at the root of the Inquisition and the Crusades," he explained.
"People who embrace replacement theology talk about the Jewish rejection of Jesus. People who reject replacement theology don't talk about the crucifixion of Jesus, but about the Jewish birth of Jesus and the Jewish birth of the Apostles. So, such people would say, 'I risk my life to save Jews because they are G-d's chosen people," Brog distinguished.
"After the Reformation, there was a small group of Christians who began to read the Bible much more literally. They were opposed to making it abstract. So when they read the word Israel, this meant a real biological people, the descendents of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. If Israel means the Jews, the Bible is a Zionist document because the Bible says the Jews will inherit the land of Israel.
According to Brog, the rejection of replacement theology meant that in order for a Christian to do God's will on earth, he must bless the Jewish people.
"Now, what was always a minority group in Europe, became a majority group in America. The dominant strain of Christianity in America today is still evangelical," emphasized Brog.
Evangelism's historical impact
In his book, Brog writes of three world leaders who, because of their belief in the Jewish biblical right to the land of Israel, expedited the establishment of the State of Israel: Lord Balfour, Woodrow Wilson, and Harry Truman. While a big supporter of Israel, it is unclear if Truman was an evangelical.
On November 2, 1917, the British Foreign Minister Lord Balfour declared Britain's support in the right of the Jews to establish a national home in the land of Israel.
According to Brog, this decision wouldn't have been put into motion had British not received the green light from American President Woodrow Wilson. Truman voted in favor of the establishment of Israel in the UN, ultimately providing the critical support of the US.
However, beyond the historical explanation, one of the factors that alienates Jews and Israelis who support a territorial solution is the fact that evangelicals are opposed to giving up land to the Palestinians in the context of a comprehensive peace agreement.
Brog asserts that while the evangelicals indeed oppose exchanging land, "they wouldn't do anything concrete to try to block it and they would still love the Jewish people because they are commanded to love the Jewish people. In other words, they're not doing it as a favor to us; they're doing it because their faith dictates as such. And this isn't just hypothetical.
"We have had examples of how Christian Zionists would react when Israeli leaders are pursuing trading land for peace. We have Rabin and the Oslo process in the early 90s, we have Barak and Camp David in the late 90s, and just recently, Sharon and Gaza.
Most of them were opposed to the disengagement and thought a mistake was being made. And just as anyone would do for a friend, they advised their friends ? don't do it. But you didn't see them out protesting in the streets. They also didn't threaten not to love Israel anymore. They said, 'We love you we, think you're making a mistake, but at the end of the day, you're a democracy and we can't impose our will upon you," said Brog.
According to him, during the disengagement, the evangelicals didn't encourage Bush to pressure Sharon to cancel the withdrawal from Gaza. On the hand, Brog claims, "it would be completely different if the American government were pressuring Israel to give up land." If this were so, Brog says, "Christian Zionists would come down on them (the American government) like a ton of bricks."
Israeli Ambassador to the US Daniel Ayalon, who is finishing four-and-a-half years in Washington, concurs. "Before the execution of the disengagement plan, some senior evangelical leaders contacted me and wanted to know if Israel is withdrawing from the Gaza Strip because of pressure put on the government," he told Ynet.
Indeed, Brog says, the central goal of Christians United for Israel is to prevent the US from pressuring Israel to give up land.
"I made it clear to them that this was an independent decision of the Israeli government. I explained the plan's logic, and this satisfied them," Ayalon said.
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